Gladys Taylor, a heavyset National Welfare Rights Organization activist out of black Miami, angrily stalked the protest line in front of the opulent Fontainebleau Hotel. The people on the veranda of the hotel were so enjoying the bourbon and the sunshine that they had forgotten about poor black folks, she said.
The people dressed up in new summer suits and filmy evening dresses were delegates to the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Most of the ragtag demonstrators hoisting placards in the broiling afternoon sun were protesting the policies of President Carter, who was due to arrive for a speech to the convention. But there were some, like Taylor, whose complaint was with the NAACP.
As the crowd chanted and sang the old civil rights song, "We shall Overcome," a sullen-faced young man from nearby riot-torn Liberty City raised and lowered a hand-lettered sign that asked, "Which Side Are You On, NAACP?"
For the members of the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization, the charge both stunned and hurt. It was one more confounding jolt in a bewildering new decade.
Edward Stonework, a minister from Campbell, Ohio, and a stalwart in the NAACP for a half-century, talked in rapid, heated bursts.
"We're here fighting for those Negroes who ain't got. Brother, the bottom line in this economy is what? Money! If the professional Negro doesn't move, there won't be nothing."
Otis Green, from the fair practices committee of the auto assembly plants in Toledo, spoke softly, sadly as he gazed at the protesters across the busy boulevard.
"This is where we are," he said. "We're divided."
The NAACP ended its annual conference here Friday night, after a week of speeches by three presidential candidates, scrappy legislative sessions, strategy workshops on voter registration, the problems of the ghetto and police brutality, and of parties and reunions. It was not the happiest or the most confident of moments in the organization's 71-year history.
Even the site of the conference was the cause of dissension. Local NAACP members had fought against the choice of Miami Beach, saying few blacks could get jobs at the big hotels, none owned one and, for what it offered the average resident of Miami's troubled black slums, it ought not exist.
Executive director Benjamin Hooks defended the selection, arguing that the NAACP's presence could help bring new opportunities for blacks.
"We don't run from trouble," he said. "Did I ever stop to think about not coming? The answer is "no."
The official theme for this year's conference was "Come What May, We're Here to Stay."
But the recession is worsening and the NAACP is strapped for cash. No member appears pleased with the president the organization helped elect.
There is a strong feeling that some of the old white liberal allies who marched shoulder to shoulder with black civil rights workers in bygone days are falling away. The NAACP's progeny -- the new emerging black middle class of lawyers, managers and upper-level bureaucrats -- expresses indifference to the organization.
And now a new, troubling question has arisen: Is the NAACP no longer relating to the black poor?
In the face of all this there was a quarrelsome, contentious mood. The latest chapters in the long and continuing power feud between Hooks and board chairman Margaret Bush Wilson wre whispered about. And there was a web of other battles: East vs. West, the Greater Miami chapter's battles with the Association of Florida NAACP branches, old vs. young.
The resolution that raised the most sparks was that members of the 64-seat governing board, dominated by men and women of late middle age -- with some in their seventies and eighties -- be retired at age 65.
Some delegates were optimistic in the face of what appeared to be a troubled time for the NAACP.
"This organization is going to go on," said Georgia State Sen. Julian Bond, at 40 one of the handful of young bright lights influential in the organization. "I have a feeling that all black organizations that are in existence are going to do better because times are getting harder. People are going to feel forced into it."
But even Bond was at a loss to explain the dispirited mood at Miami Beach.
"Attendance is real low here compared to last year, and there's an absence of spirit compared to last year," he said. "Someone attributed it to the depression people feel about the presidential campaign. I don't know. I don't think that's it.
At the end of a long day of speeches, interviews and awards dinners, Hooks sat in his four-bedroom duplex penthouse suite and talked about his organization.
There must be more federal jobs for poor youths, he said, new action on the problem of police brutality, and improvement, he did not know precisely what kinds, in public schools.
"Our program is not spectacular," he said."It is designed to work." But he acknowledged that the struggle to make it work was getting tougher.
"The reason it is so different now is that in the past the motivation was self-interest," he said.
When the battle was over getting the "White Only" sign removed from above a drinking fountain, all who protested shared in the benefits of change. Now, he said, the NAACP member asked to fight an affirmative action battle in his town probably already has a job.
"The biggest complaint we have is 90 percent of the people we help don't belong to the organization," he said.
Willie Wortham, 68, of Los Angeles' Watts, started out in the NAACP more than three decades ago, fighting what he still calls Jim Crow in his union. The battles were won, he said, and so were battles against restrictive covenants and other barriers.
But now, he said, "the black feel like we don't have a cause."
"When the Germans and Poles came here they stayed in solid communities. White sold us integration and all it did was weaken us, weakened our economic base and our political base," he said.
"We can't confront the system on a united basis because we don't have it."